The picture is a replica of a “Time” magazine cover from 1980, of legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant scribbling a play with chalk, and it has sat over the shoulder of Bruce Arians in the office of wherever he has coached for 30 years.
A gift he was given when he was the head coach at Temple, the image went right behind Arians’ desk Tuesday as he moved into the head coach’s office of the Cardinals in their Tempe facility. It served as a reminder, on the day Arians formally announced his coaching staff, of the advice Bryant – who had Arians coach running backs on Bryant’s final coaching staff at Alabama – gave Arians before he left to take over at Temple.
“Coach ’em hard and hug them later,” were Bryant’s words, and “I’ve never forgotten that,” Arians said.
“We’ll be up tempo at practice, but we want to have a great relationship,” Arians said. “We want the players to want to be around their coaches and vice versa.”
There will be plenty of coaches to build that around. Arians’ staff will number 21, four more coaches than the previous staff of Ken Whisenhunt. Arians’ theory was to split the salary of a spot or two to bring in young, hungry coaches and keep down the size of the groups in meeting rooms.
That way, he said, there is more teaching, and teaching is at the heart of what all of them will be doing.
Already, the team had announced offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, along with assistant head coach/offense Tom Moore. Arians said he thinks head coaching is in the future for both Goodwin and Bowles.
Even with young blood, however, experience is also plenty on the team’s new staff.
At the top of that list is new pass rush coach Tom Pratt, who has coached in the NFL for 34 years and served on the staff of the Kansas City Chiefs when they played in Super Bowl I. There are men like he and Moore, Goodwin, Bowles, guys who had already spent a chunk of time coaching in the NFL. That includes special teams coordinator Amos Jones, who was doing the same thing with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Linebackers coach Mike Caldwell was on the Eagles’ defensive staff since 2008, the last couple of years doing the same job and working with Bowles.
Receivers coach Darryl Drake has been coaching the wideouts for the Bears for nine seasons, while running backs coach Stump Mitchell, who played nine seasons for the Cardinals, coached running backs for a decade with the Seahawks and Redskins (including Shaun Alexander’s MVP year in Seattle in 2005). Assistant offensive line coach Larry Zierlein has spent eight of his 41 coaching years in the NFL, including a three-year stint with the Steelers on the line after Russ Grimm left to come to Arizona.
The rest of the staff includes outside linebackers coach James Bettcher, who was with Arians as an assistant in Indianapolis last season; defensive line coach Brentson Buckner, a 12-year NFL player who interned three years with the Steelers’ coaching staff; tight ends coach Rick Christophel, who spent the last six of his 32-year coaching career as the head coach of Austin Peay; offensive assistant Kevin Garver, who worked for Nick Saban at Alabama; former Browns tight end Steve Heiden, who will assist with tight ends and special teams; 30-year coaching veteran Nick Rapone, who goes from defensive coordinator at Deleware to defensive backs; and cornerbacks coach Kevin Ross, who played in the NFL for 14 years and has coached for seven more.
The Cardinals also kept Freddie Kitchens, Ryan Slowik, John Lott and Pete Alosi from the previous staff. Lott and Alosi remain the strength and conditioning coaches. Kitchens, who played quarterback at Alabama (and whose offensive coordinator his senior year was Arians), moves from tight ends to quarterbacks. Slowik, who was working with outside linebackers, is now a defensive backs assistant/defensive assistant.
All of the newcomers have ties to Arians in one way, shape or form. Bowles and Ross played for Arians (and were team captains) at Temple. Jones was a grad assistant for Arians at Alabama. Rapone actually played with Arians at Virginia Tech once upon a time.
Up first is evaluation of the roster and all the possible restricted and unrestricted free agents. Arians said the staff should have that done “in the next four or five days.” Then comes ramp up for the Scouting combine later this month, and once the staff returns, they will build the playbooks in the mornings and break down personnel in the afternoons. The schedule, Arians said, is already mapped out all the way through the coaches’ pre-training camp vacation.
“I’m anxious to see (the players) on the field, but there is so much to learn and do and teach before then,” Arians said.
The teaching, with his staff in place, will begin soon enough.
“(These are) great teachers,” Arians said. “That’s all coaches are, teachers.”
“Our tests,” he added, “are just given in front of 60,000 or 70,000 live and a few million on television.”